Category Archives for Music Production

bootlegs and remixes

First a few things.

A remix is when you're officially engaged by the original artist to remix their work.  When you take it upon yourself to do un-authorized remixes, it's not technically correct to call it a remix.  It's really a bootleg or edit.

That said, edits/bootlegs can still be totally awesome!  They can add to your sets and be your secret weapons.

Finding great bootlegs is usually done in the record stores because that's where you find un-authorized pressings. Yes, I reminisce about my vinyl buying days.  The experience of getting to the city, going to the store. Picking up flyers and free magazines and throwing them in my shopping bag on the way out.  That was all fun but one of the huge things I miss are those hard to find white labels.

One example that comes to mind is a mix of Depeche Mode's Only When I Lose Myself. Now, Lexicon Avenue did a fabulous remix Jon Digweed used to play.  At the same time "DNA" seemed to have made an edit of theirs and released it on vinyl with a Lenny Kravitz mix on the other side.

The DNA mix was a big tune at New York's Sound Factory, I happened to have bought a copy.

Discogs has more info. 

It now goes for $20 and up.

I also recently got the Lexicon Ave remix along with some other old gems from Discogs.

One of which was the old classic pop dance song by Black Box "Everybody Everybody."

Hell of a tune.  I love techno, house, metal, blues, and love a lot of 90s dance/pop of the time.  Toni Toni Tone, Bell Big De Voe, Notorious Big, Dee-Lite. Shit like that.

One of my mates, a real vinyl junkie, buys a ton from Juno and has them shipped over.  We were spinning a nice set.  He plays this nice tech house groove.  Some chords start, they sound super familiar.  Ahh I know this tune.

Then more of the record comes on and I realize it's a boot leg of Black Box everybody everybody.

I recorded our set which made for a good commute soundtrack.

But I needed that black box track, so I was like fuck it I can make my own.  I realized that the bootleg my friend had used this a capella which has the vocals plus some strings and keys. I wish it was just the vocal but oh well.

Anyhow, I got the 12 inch and recorded it into ableton and did the usual time stretching.

From there I started chopping the keys and adding a kick, bass, hi hats and other parts.

I didn't add a ton of stuff because I like the rawness of it. That's usually the vibe of these edits/bootlegs.

Good places to find material for edits/bootlegs are:

Beatport - look for tools and stuff.

Vinyl - shop discogs, get a turntable.

And this new website I just found out about that sells legit a capellas.

Once you've found a tune you want to try your hand at remixing you'll need to identify the musical key.

Not so hard with Rekordbox or Mixed in Key.  These will analyze the root note of your track. I think Traktor does the same.

From there you'll probably want to find a kick drum that works. After that adding bass is easy because you know the key so start playing a bass note in the root of the song.

In the case of the Black Box tune it's "F."

From there you have to arrange the tune in a sensible way.  If you need help on that go here. 

Bootlegs are a great way to try your hand at producing!

You're starting with a lot great source material so things like a nice vocal, or catchy melody are already handled.  Some of the arrangement is done so you can work w/ the flow of the source material.

Give it a shot, here's how my bootleg is shaping up.


The Weekly Wrap Up June 9 2017

Here's a video on Mixing where I show you the plugins I use on different tracks in the mix like the master fader, along with individual tracks as well as groups or busses.


Also, streaming live is not that hard or expensive.

Here's a quick one where I'm dabbling w/ Maschine Jam.


What you need"

Rode SC4 available on Amazon and lots of places.  This converts a stereo input into a mic input for your smart phone, I'm using an iPhone.

Then you need something like this to go from your mixer to the Rode connector.

**this is important**

You're phone takes a mic level input, your mixer or soundcard sends line level signal which is MUCH hotter than a mic level signal.

So you'll need to send a very low level signal into your phone or you will get distortion.

What does this mean?

On a DJ mixer you must use an output with a knob that controls the signal going out.  For example I'm using the booth out on my DJ mixer and I have the output set to 9 o clock.  This is very low.

If you don't have control over your output then you will need this attenuator by Fentronix.

In the clip on facebook above, it doesn't sound super great because I'm just jamming and when I further arrange and mix this tune I'll be making sure it sounds good in mono.  Using this method which is quite easy and cheap you'll be broadcasting in mono.

This is fine for streaming DJ sets where the music is already mix, mastered and sounding good in mono.

Enjoy and see you next time.



Mastering Shoot Out - Landr Versus a Human

In this video I do a shoot out between Landr and Russel Edwards of Warm Audio Mastering.  Russel and I recently connected on Facebook and I just got back fresh master from his studio.

Who will win the human or the algorithm?

I think you may know but watch and listen to this blind playback and decide for yourself.

The truth of the matter is that I think Landr is a great production tool to use while your tracks are "works in progress."  A Landr master is fine for sending demos to labels, but when it comes to the final master, you probably want to hire a pro.  This is what I do as I think it's pretty much foolish to try it on my own. I get nowhere close to what the pros can do.

If you like the track in the video it's available as a learning tool in my course.  Includes are all stems, so students can practice arranging, mixing and remixing.

Check out the course here.

And what did you think of the shoot out? Let me know your thoughts & which version you liked in the comments

How to Make Sure Your Track Fills Out The Full Frequency Range

Can you see what's wrong with this picture?  The image above is a spectrum analysis of one of my (work in progress) tracks.

I sent it off to Björgvin over at for a review and loved his feedback even though he doesn't really work at all in dance music. 

I had asked him to review what's done well, and what red flags does he see or hear.  His concern is my track is quite bottom heavy and lacking in mid-range.

This sent me back to the drawing board.

First thing I did was find a tune that I think sounds good, so I popped one of Harvey McKay's tracks into Ableton with Voxengo Span on the master fader. Span is a free spectrum analysis.

No surprise that Harvey's tune looks and sounds lovely.

I took a screen shot of Harvey's track to get a snapshot of what the spectrum looked like.

I then played my own track and too a snapshot and looked at them both side by side to see what was missing.

I was missing content from about 250Hz to 1500kHz.  So I played Harvey's tune and discovered that his chord riff is a big part of how he fills out that range of sounds in his tune.

So my tune needed a similar riff or hook which I added and you can hear in the video.

Very worthwhile exercise of getting feedback from another expert and implementing something new.

The little chord sequence I added definitely gives the tune a need boost of sonic character.

Techno Production with lots of samples ripped from vinyl

(photo by Michael Bodnar called Reflections of the Needle)

During a snow day last month I had a change to rip some samples from vinyl and this morning I had a chance to mess with them and make some patterns. I use Maschine for the chopping and editing, what you see in Ableton are the exported individual tracks and how I processed them.

Everything is 100% native Ableton.

In the video you'll get some quick pointers on mixing like making sure the the full mix is mono compatible, using the Ableton EQ to roll off low end that's not needed etc. You'll see how I set levels and used several tracks for back ground atmospheric sounds.

Some nice percussion parts.  Nearly everything is all from sampled vinyl except the hi hats, synth and subby kick.

Download the Files Here.

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Or if you want something more in-depth my production course is still at the reduced introductory rate. For the first 30 students, 13 spots are left.

UAD Plugins & Dance Music Production

So what's the deal with UAD plugins?

Are they worth it and are they worth using in dance music production?

In my opinion, yes and yes.

UAD or Universal Audio has a long history in music production. Founded by Bill Putnam a long time ago, his son has taken the company into the 21st century with the UAD platform released in the 2000s.

The UAD platform has come a long way since I bought my first PCI card around 2004 or so.

I had a UAD 1 card and didn't know what the hell I was doing.

Fast forward about 9 years and I was in the market for a studio purchase that would take my sounds to the next level.

I was unsure of the best way to spend about $1,000. New monitors, new interface, or a UAD Quad with new plugins.

I already had decent monitors, pair of the original Event 20/20 powered monitors. They were great but too big for my smaller desk and room.

My interface was adequate with a Motu Traveler Mk1.

What about plugins.

Truthfully the stock plugins in Ableton and Maschine are adequate. But the UAD stuff will get you where you need to go faster. And my gosh, that Studer tape machine emulation...I've never heard anything so awesome. I'd have no idea how to do something similar in the box.

So here we go.

Here are the ones I own.

Studer (here's a Studer Video I made a few years ago - where you can listen to it)
Empirical Labs Fatso
Lexicon 224 Reverb
EMT Plate 140 Reverb
Neve 88rs Channel Strip
API Vision Channel Strip
Upgraded LA2A
Upgraded Fairchild
Helios EQ
Maag EQ
Brainworx Guitar Amp Simulators
EP 34 Tape Echo
Bermuda Triangle Distortion Peddle
Raw Distortion
Little Labs Voice of God
Precision K Stereo Ambiance Recovery

A bunch of other free ones.

Since 2013 I spent $706, that included a custom bundle at $399 with my purchase of a Satellite Quad Card.And I have an Apollo Twin Solo interface.

Has it been worth it?

Absolutely, it's a joy to use.

Here's what I use the most.

The Fatso has found a place on my master bus. Is it great for things like NYC/parallel compression. For sure, I just don't need to use that technique often to add fatness to drums because I'm covered on that front. It's very nice for the sonic glue you'd be going for with Ableton/Cytomic's glue compressor or an SSL G series compressor.

1-2 dB of compression, with the compressor on the bus setting which has a low ratio and the input is set in the middle. A button or 2 of warmth, I can set it to ignore the lows and I'm off. Subtle, warmth, fatness, and glue. I load up a master bus preset, adjust the input and threshold and within a few clicks, bam, I'm done. I do send my mixes to mastering with the Fatso on. This is not something I just mix with.

Lexicon reverb, I don't use it ofen. Underused on my part.

EMT 140 - very nice and easy to use. I have 1 or 2 set up for cymbals and claps/snares.

The UAD Studer A800. I use this a ton and love it! I buss my lows together so the Studer always goes on that channel to give a little extra heft. Tape speeds and settings have their characteristics. I usually stick to 30 IPS on the "repro" tape formula. The input and output settings are very important long with the secondary EQ controls. I find that the HF and LF controls help me dial in just the right sound for lows and hi's of the kick.  I used the Studer tape emulation on the low-end in these free samples.

Teletronix LA2A, has been getting a lot of use on my mic input channel when recording videos, but it's also amazing synths and bass parts. Anything that's not moving too fast with tons of transients that I need to stand out in the mix a little more. There's only a few parts to move on the device so it's easy to get the right sound.

This is not the case for the API Vision Channel strip.

The thing sounds great but it's not too easy on the eyes.

I'm partial to the Neve 88rs because that was my first channel strip and it's very easy to use aside from the gate/expander thing.

The Neve 88rs. It's a great swiss army knife and channel strips definitely have their place in the mix. The legacy version is super DSP friendly because it's an older plugin.

The new one is a DSP hog but it's sounds great. I just got it so I can't speak to it in great detail yet.

The legacy version was used to EQ some of the low-end parts on my tune Friction which was tricky because I had a big kick, with reverb to make the rumbly low end, and some tom drum parts to add extra low-end rhythm. This was tricky to get right and surprisingly I was able to get it done with the 88rs instead of a surgical modern EQ like Ableton's EQ8.

The LA3A is another solid compressor, also older and light on DSP. UA also made a hardware unit of this. It's designed to emulate the best of the 1176 and LA2A. The software version is quite nice.

The Helios Type 69 EQ. Great for giving kicks a little extra punch in the 60hz range.

The Pultec EQ. The legacy free version is great! I'm sure the upgrade is nice, I just haven't gotten there yet. Great for adding to low or higher frequencies. I don't use it much for mids.

Some tips if you're considering making the leap.

Look for deals, they happen a lot. Right now accelerator cards are on a price drop. If not that they are often bundled with software. When I bought my Satellite Quad Firewire card it came with the EMt 140, the Neve 88rs, and the EP-34 tape delay.

They have nice sales when retailers promote. Like Christmas and around Thanksgiving. Summer sales and in the fall. As of March 2017, there's a March madness sale. And they are generous with coupons.

I just scored the new Neve 88rs for $49 because it was on sale and they had a $50 coupon ready for me in my account.

To wrap up, I'm not here to tell you UAD is better than other plugins out there, however the Apollo interfaces are excellent and if you need a new or upgraded interface they are great way to get into the UAD world.  For example if I was purchasing today I'd get the new Apollo Twin Quad.  If you often record synths and want the ability to print your tracks with effects, it's also solid.

The accelerator cards are also very nice, but be sure to be strategic on your plugin purchases.  Use custom bundles if your really want the latest and greatest plugins that seldom go on sale (Studer, Ampex, Ocean Way, API, Manley) otherwise you can stretch your dollars rather far with coupons and sales.

Have you ever considered UAD plugins, do you want to hear what some of them sound like in future articles?

++update - UAD just released some very cool new stuff from Moog and others, so it looks like they are starting to make plugins for us electronic music makers++